The schools and educational work of the Dickens’ Theatre Company is evident in this production of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde – the storyline does not substantially deviate from Robert Louis Stevenson’s narrative, while some care is taken to explain what is happening. The crystal clarity is welcome, in that it makes the show as accessible as it could be, and indeed the audience at the performance I attended was a good mix of people across the generations. It does, however, mean there is not much left to the imagination, and the tactic of keeping everyone on the same page somewhat ironically means it is difficult to maintain interest in places. One gets the feeling there is little need to concentrate too hard on proceedings – if something doesn’t quite make sense, never mind: all the salient points will be delineated before the evening is out.
Even the various theatrical techniques deployed are explained, which makes for good write-ups for the schoolchildren in the audience, who could write at length about, say, the use of poetry as a narrative device, or the manner in which the show opens with a dramatic moment, but far from the beginning of the story. With a cast of four, everyone has much to do, but none more so than Louise Faulkner, who takes on seven different named characters in this steadily-paced one-act play.
Rob Goll’s Jekyll (or is it Hyde?) is about as impassioned as his creator, Robert Louis Stevenson (Ryan Philpott), the latter portrayed as a hard-up writer under pressure to meet a copy deadline for his next novel. The play offers little, if anything at all, in the way of comic relief from an increasingly intense story. With no banter and no interval, the dramatic tension is never broken. It is too harsh, however, to dismiss the production as one-dimensional.
Economical is the word I’d use. It’s as tight as show as it could be – not a line is wasted. There isn’t anything there that shouldn’t be there, and nothing, either in terms of dialogue or set, comes across as superfluous. Gabriel Utterson (Dave Keeling), who has Jekyll as both a friend and a legal client, takes a while to work out what is ‘really’ going on – after all, if he didn’t, the play would be even shorter than it is. But, as ever, the story demonstrates the complexities and intricacies of human nature, and how outward appearances can be highly deceiving.
Taken literally, the physical appearance of Hyde is not that far removed from Jekyll here, which makes the deception all the more intriguing, particularly as the other characters notice a substantial change that is not immediately obvious by way of costume. This largely faithful adaptation may not exactly be groundbreaking or radical (or, at least not any more radical than the book was when it was first published). However, it is a solid and dependable production, maintaining curiosity despite also maintaining conventions.
Review by Chris Omaweng
In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson could not pay his bills. Despite the success of Treasure Island, he was in need of a ‘hit’.
Then one night, wracked with a fever he dreamed the strangest dream.
Soho, London. A child is attacked. An evil predator is on the loose. Upstanding lawyer Gabriel Utterson is drawn in to the case. His two closest friends Dr Lanyon and Dr Jekyll know more than they are letting on.
Is the dastardly Hyde blackmailing Dr Jekyll? Who is this “sneering Satan”? Utterson vows to solve the mystery before Hyde strikes again.
Louise Faulkner, Rob Goll, Dave Keeling & Ryan Philpott
Directed by Eric Richard
Music by Paul Higgs
Adapted by Ryan Philpott
Recommended for PRIMARY & SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS aged 10+.
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is at Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre from Monday 23rd May, 2022 to Saturday 28th May, 2022.